Digging Deeper: Is Gen Z Doomed to Fail at Budgeting?

Dec 18, 2017
Budgeting, Debit Cards, Credit Cards, Purchase Decisions, Tips for Teachers, Article, Current Events


The students in our classrooms today can make it through life without ever touching cash.  Heck, they don’t even have to take a debit or credit card out of their pockets….a few taps  on the phone that is always in their hand and they can pay for things using ApplePay or the Android equivalent, or pay back their friends using an PayPal or Venmo. A student of mine from China said this is how his generation pays for everything back home.  Bottom line: it is just too easy to spend money.  

Since I began teaching Personal Finance in 2011, I have been worried about how the next generations would fare financially due to the lack of a physical connection to “money.” The students’ first assignment was to go for a week paying for things using only a fixed amount of cash.  I wanted them to have that kinesthetic experience of touching the money and watching a finite amount of cash leave their hands.  Most reported that it was painful to watch the cash dwindle, and even more painful to wait for change!

The Visual Capitalist published a great infographic showing the history of payment disruptions, dating back thousands of years.  We are hurtling towards a cashless society, but according to a survey cited in the article, only 38% of people in the US say they are ready to do so today.

There are tons of apps out there to help people budget, save, and invest, but where is the one that proactively gets them to stop and think before hitting the “purchase” button? A Google search came up with an app called Level Money, which had the right idea but is no longer in business. 

What can we do as teachers to help? First and foremost, we should take the time to learn about the psychology of money and explain it to our students (Editor's note: We have a slew of behavioral finance content on our blog if you want to dig in deeper). Then give them plenty of opportunities to “practice” good habits.  You can try some version of the cash experiment, or simply do lots of role-playing.   

I recently read an article by Michelle Singletary of the Washington Post a few weeks ago that echoed my concerns.  In it she reviews the key points of the book Dollars and Sense: How we Misthink Money and How to Spend Smarter, by Dan Ariely and Jeff Kreisler.  I am definitely putting this book on my holiday reading list.  


Speaking of apps – NGPF has a great project in the Budgeting Unit: Budgeting Apps where students research the variety of apps available to them to help them track their spending and budgets.

About the Author

Beth Tallman

Beth Tallman entered the working world armed with an M.B.A. in finance and thoroughly enjoyed her first career working in manufacturing and telecommunications, including a stint overseas. She took advantage of an involuntary separation to try teaching high school math, something she had always dreamed of doing. When fate stepped in once again, Beth jumped on the opportunity to combine her passion for numbers, money, and education to develop curriculum and teach personal finance at Oberlin College. Beth now spends her time writing on personal finance and financial education, conducting student workshops, and developing finance curricula and educational content. She is also the Treasurer of Ohio Jump$tart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy.